Global Bar Report 2023: Europe
As an increasing number of consumers choose to drink at home, and prices rise, we examine the health of the global bar scene, beginning in Europe.
Today’s drinkers have dealt with a global pandemic, trade restrictions, and wars, and are now dealing with a squeeze on disposable incomes as the result of the soaring prices of goods. As a result, consumers are carefully considering their drinking choices, and bars are having a tough time attracting guests, while also facing high costs for everything from food to energy, alongside labour shortages.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, drinkers pivoted to at-home consumption, and this has also become more prevalent to cut costs. Drinkers still go out, but evidently less. According to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis research conducted in April 2023, on average, around 60% of consumers in North America, parts of Europe, South Africa, and Australia said they were going out less. Meanwhile in China and India, around 50% said they were going out more.
Meanwhile, the Consumer Trend Report by alcohol e-commerce platform Drizly found that 26% of US consumers are spending more money on beverages to drink at home rather than going out to bars, as a way of avoiding rising inflation costs.
Data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis also revealed that globally, the on-trade accounted for 35% of total beverage alcohol volumes in 2019. This figure plummeted to 23% in 2020, before recovering slightly to 28% in 2021, and 29% in 2022. Only Mexico exceeded the levels of 2019 in 2022, with countries including China, India, Brazil, and the UK still falling well short.
There are signs of optimism for the world’s bars. Consumers continue to see drinking out as an affordable treat, and while they may not be going out as frequently, they are trading up to cocktails and higher-priced spirits in their drinks choices. A survey by CGA NielsenIQ of consumers in Great Britain found that out of nine million cocktail drinkers, 67% are very likely or quite likely to pay more for a higher-quality cocktail.
This year’s Global Bar Report looks at the on‐trade, split into six regions: Africa and the Middle East; Asia; Australasia; Europe; North America; and South America. Each region’s on‐trade scene is explored on the following pages, alongside the challenges, trends and opportunities. Each section will also feature three bars to watch in the year ahead, focused on emerging venues that are shaking up the cocktail scene in their respective regions.
You may have noticed that the hospitality sector is struggling. According to research undertaken by the Altus Group in the UK, more than two pubs a day closed in the first half of 2023. The industry has been forced to endure a succession of geopolitical shocks in the post-Covid-19 environment, coupled with an ongoing crisis in recruitment. Meanwhile, inflation continues to devour margins, forcing difficult choices about who can shoulder the burden of inevitable price rises.
Yet Europe’s bar scene remains unflappable, dynamic, and achingly on-trend, despite the challenges ahead. A rash of new openings in 2023 is just one indication of the sector’s rude health, as investors continue to shake up Europe’s streets – and barrios – with innovative concepts that trade heavily on sustainability, and provide unique experiences. As one example, London will soon welcome The Dram to Soho’s iconic Denmark Street, where guests can immerse themselves in a plethora of sensory stimulation: two bars, a whisky shop, an outdoor terrace, and a private pool room with a ready-to-drink cocktail vending machine are up for grabs. “The Dram is about creating a venue that brings together our years of experience into one succinct venue,” explains co-founder Chris Tanner.
His colleague, Martyn ‘Simo’ Simpson, adds: “We see the future as a process of creating spaces that bring in world-class programming in an environment that allows guests to drop their guard a bit. That said, London’s bar scene was dramatically impacted by Covid-19. Talent suffered massively.”
On the plus side, however, global tourism numbers are soaring, helping to fuel an insatiable appetite for designer cocktails and glamorous interiors in Barcelona, Paris, and Milan. If there is one niche that has prospered in 2023, it is the luxury segment. Once confined to five-star hotels, today’s metropolises are bursting with chic venues that offer exemplary service and bespoke mixology. The current trend, exemplified by Rome’s Nite Kong, is to prioritise intimacy over bonhomie.
Thus, it requires customers to make a reservation to gain entry, catering to a maximum of 30 guests (in a rather large space) with no standing room. Some may regard this approach as unduly elitist, but owners understand that in the competitive world of hospitality, high-spending customers expect you to go that extra mile.
Meanwhile the birthplace of the legendary Negroni, Florence’s Giacosa Bar, was relaunched this year following a major refurbishment. Despite the capricious macroeconomic situation, investor confidence remains high. In that sense, little has changed – the hospitality industry continues to reap the rewards of a (once again) buoyant travel market and experience economy. Overall it’s a tangible sense of optimism, not pessimism, that hangs in the air. Yet the cultural framework has evolved, at least in terms of sustainability. Fifteen years ago, customers were unlikely to enquire too heavily into a business’s green policies or procurement strategy. Today they will, encouraged by an ongoing global conversation that regards climate change as the defining issue of our times.
Many key stakeholders have pledged to tackle the climate crisis head-on, reducing the environmental impact of their day-to-day operations. Yet the industry is also pursuing a diverse agenda, tackling environmental issues in a variety of innovative ways.
“Sustainability is very important for us,” says Jack Wallis, co-founder of The Dram. “We are buying in bulk from independent small farms in Kent when the produce is in season so we can develop a drink (and preserve the ingredients), know where it grows, and who grew it. We can meet and verify the small growers we work with, making sure that artisan spirits producers get a look-in.”
Challenges remain, not least soaring inflation and an ongoing labour shortage. But as owners, suppliers and patrons unite around a cause that can bring out the best in everyone, Europe’s bar industry has never seemed more relevant.
Bars to watch in 2024
The Dram – London, UK
In keeping with current trends, The Dram is an experience-led destination that redefines the notion of a night out. Opening this month, the venue is housed in a 17th-century Grade II-listed building, set over three floors. The concept embraces the spectrum of drinking: The Dram’s entrance opens up to its ground-floor bar and whisky shop, offering coffee and food in the morning before transitioning into a contemporary bar in the early evening with a tapped cocktail programme. According to its founders, whisky expert Martyn ‘Simo’ Simpson has used his years of knowledge to present an expansive range of world whiskies in the hopes of modernising the way people view the category. The Dram’s low-lit basement cocktail bar provides an innovative drinks offering centred around seasonality and exploration.
Nite Kong – Rome, Italy
From the classic Negroni to a curated list of bespoke cocktails, Nite Kong has all the bases covered. The venue is chic, discreet, and very softly lit – a minimalist space with impeccably trained staff, soothing music, and an eclectic crowd of tourists and regulars. Highlights include the Notte (Montelobos Espadín mezcal, dry vermouth reduction, and smoky soda) and Shade, a hedonistic concoction of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, sweet Sherry, ruby Port, absinthe and orange bitters. Reservations are essential.
Paladar – Cork, Ireland
Taste buds are kept on the move at this ode to South America – a rustic space with tiled floors, wooden ceilings, and a mosaic of chandeliers (and lanterns) that provide welcome illumination as the sun sets. You also can’t go far wrong with Uva Entera (Pisco Control, Talisker 10, Prosecco, grape leaf, Lillet Blanc, Terra Ignis and elderflower tepache shrub) or an enticing mix of Bacardí Añejo Cuatro, peach, lemon, and cardamom known as the Malecón. Arrive early to snag a hot seat along the bar.